Whisky Reviews: Diageo Rare By Nature 2019 Scotch Whisky Special Releases

Editor’s Note: These whiskies were provided to us as review samples by Diageo. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy links throughout this article our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

The Special Releases 2019 edition by Diageo aims to bring a number of distilleries’ characters throughout its vast portfolio to life. This collection is full of rare, well crafted single malts from renowned Scottish distilleries. For the first time, each bottle is united by theme in packaging. The “Rare by Nature” collection features illustrations of flora and fauna that surround each distillery.

Just like the Special Releases 2018 edition, the current collection is still missing a Port Ellen expression. Diageo has also decided to cut the number of expressions in the “Rare by Nature” collection by two for a total of eight. The distilleries included are Cardhu, Cragganmore, Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, Mortlach, Pittyvaich, The Singleton, and Talkisker. The age statements range from 12 years to 30 years. 

Cardhu is represented by a bee, which pollinates the hillside heather of this Speyside distillery. Cragganmore is represented by a barn owl that hunts its prey in the Speyside glens. Dalwhinnie’s mountain hares are illustrated in honor of the highest distillery in Scotland. The Islay malt maker, Lagavulin, has a white tailed eagle gracing its label.

The red deer stag, which has a deep bellow, represents the robust flavors of Mortlach. Because Pittyvaich is a “ghost” distillery, the shy capercaillie found in Scottish pine forests is illustrated on the label. The Singleton, known for smoothness and balance, also matches the liveliness of leaping salmon. Finally, Talisker, which makes its whisky on the shores of Skye, has a well-matched oyster bed illustration.

Diageo Rare by Nature 2019 Scotch Whisky Special Releases

Diageo Rare by Nature 2019 Scotch Whisky Special Releases (image via Diageo)

Tasting Notes: Cardhu 14 Year Old

Vital Stats: 55% ABV; Speyside single malt distilled in 2004; double matured for two years in Amontillado Sherry-seasoned hogsheads; around $150 per 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: Custard/18k gold. 

Nose: Vibrant green apple is abundant on the nose of this dram. Ash and oak blend in the middle like the embers of a remaining campfire. Nectarine peaks through on the end. 

Palate: At the beginning, there is strong French vanilla and cane sugar like stepping into a patisserie. Despite the bold leather and smoky notes, it’s particularly fruity. It has a nectar-like quality to it. 

Final Thoughts: It is a bold scotch. The fruit from green apples and nectarine are welcomed notes. The nose and palate are vastly different, but it is probably my second favourite in the collection. 

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Cragganmore 12 Year Old

Vital Stats: 58.4% ABV. Speyside single malt distilled in 2006; matured in refilled American oak casks; never released before; around $110 per 750 ml bottle. 

Appearance: Faint gold/pale straw. 

Nose: There is a light sweetness from honey. It is very floral. Citrus, mainly orange peel, bursts through. In the background, I get a scent similar to smoked meat on a Traeger. There are tiny traces of pear or fresh apple. It’s crisp with a touch of orange blossom. 

Palate: The whisky is sweet up front, and it has a light mouthfeel. I get orange segments blending with baking spices. It almost reminds me of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Leather, red meat, and smoke finish it off. It sits in your chest awhile and warms you up. 

Final Thoughts: The most surprising out of the bunch. It transitions from feminine to masculine, which makes for a unique experience. I can’t seem to get enough of this one, it’s so tasty. 

Score: 5/5

Tasting Notes: Dalwhinnie 30 Year Old

Vital Stats: 54.7% ABV. Highland single malt distilled in 1987 and 1988; matured 30 years in refill hogsheads and butts; around $625 per 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: Light amber/polished brass. 

Nose: Floral, like rosehips, at the beginning. The main character is the malted barley, which you will find is like walking through a farm at the peak of harvest. 

Palate: Honey starts this dram, and like a hot toddy, it is warm. The mouthfeel is oily, but not heavy. What is heavy, is the amount of cereal grain and malted barley you get. Surprisingly, there is a quick burst of smoke. Oak stays on the tongue long after it is sipped, and the aftertaste is reminiscent of green or herbal tea. 

Final Thoughts: There may be more in flavor, but it is hard to tell with how quickly it all disappears from the palate. It’s a little too oaky for my liking, but I wouldn’t pass it up. 

Score: 3.5/5

Tasting Notes: Lagavulin 12 Year Old

Vital Stats: 56.5% ABV. Islay single malt distilled in 2006 and 2007; matured in refill American oak casks; around $140 per 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: Pale straw/champagne. 

Nose: The nose on this particular 12 year Lagavulin, comes off minerally with ash. Smoked meat is predominant, but the umami is the highlight. It is boggy and earthy like walking through a dampened forest. Cereal grain rounds out the finish.

Palate: Upon first sip, it is legit, straight up liquid smoke. However, orange and honey make their way through. The smoke dissipates, and you are left with the delicious taste of jerky. Malty grain comes through at the end.  

Final Thoughts: Yup, it’s definitely Lagavulin. This expression doesn’t give you that band-aid or medicinal flavor, but you do get a lot of smoked meat. You can’t go wrong with Lagavulin if you like smokey scotch.

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Mortlach 26 Year Old

Vital Stats: 53.3% ABV. Speyside single malt distilled in 1992; matured in first fill Pedro-Ximenez and Oloroso Sherry-seasoned casks; around $2,000 per 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: Deep mahogany/red wood. 

Nose: Raisin, raisin, and more raisin. Behind the raisin is oak. The backend has nail polish remover. 

Palate: Woody and dry from the oak, and very tannic. The sherry provides some respite from the dryness with fruit. Cloves finish the palate with a drag of tobacco. 

Final Thoughts: I let my hopes get too high. Yes we are promised bold flavor from the small batch “Beast of Dufftown,” but I like other expressions of Mortlach better. 

Score: 3/5

Tasting Notes: Pittyvaich 29 Year Old 

Vital Stats: 51.4% ABV. Speyside single malt distilled in 1989; double matured in Pedro-Ximenez and Oloroso Sherry-seasoned casks; around $430 per 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: Medium amber. 

Nose: Nail varnish hits upfront, but quickly dissipates. Prunes and raisins from the sherry shine. I kind of get clothes airing out from being stored in plastic bags with moth repellent. 

Palate: So much oak is on the tongue at first. A drop of saltwater shows up. There isn’t as much sherry on the palate as there was on the nose. However, the dram sips similar to brandy, or even cognac. 

Final Thoughts: I like this ghost better than the 28-year-old expression in Diageo’s Special Releases for 2018. I don’t mind the oak in this one because it is balanced well with the Oloroso and Pedro-Ximenez. The afterglow is very warm and lingers for a long time. 

Score: 3.5/5 

Tasting Notes: The Singleton Glen Ord 18 Year Old

Vital Stats: 55% ABV. Highland single malt distilled in 2000; a previously unreleased expression matured in freshly charred American oak casks; around $170 per 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: Light amber. 

Nose: Tannic with salty popcorn at the forefront. Grandma’s butterscotch candies mix with nail polish in the middle. 

Palate: Smokey and meaty like a perfectly charred burger on a flamed grill. Only a kiss of oak, but the finish is sweet and dry with caramel and vanilla. The mouthfeel is light, but it is oily. Warms both your mouth and gut. 

Final Thoughts: This is an interesting expression within the collection, which I don’t quite know how to put into words. This one ranks third for me. 

Score: 4/5

Tasting Notes: Talisker 15 Year Old 

Vital Stats: 57.3% ABV. Isle of Skye single malt distilled in 2002; matured only in freshly charred American oak hogsheads; first ever 15-year-old whisky released by Talisker; around $140 per 750 ml bottle.

Appearance: 14k gold. 

Nose: Sugary sweet, candied orange peel hits the nose right away. Honey and vanilla come sweeping in. Just a tiny bit of smoke similar to a freshly lit tobacco pipe. 

Palate: The mouthfeel is oily. It is sweet with orange peel and orange segment. The honey from the nose is present on the tongue and drinks like syrup. Leather and cigar come through, but it isn’t overpowering. A tinge of saline washes over the finish. 

Final Thoughts: This isn’t just any Talisker. This dram drinks like a lady, yet a little too sweet. I think bourbon drinkers would enjoy this. 

Score: 4/5

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